Like the air we breathe, it’s both in us and all around us.
I have worked directly within Peterborough’s rural neighbourhoods. I’ve connected to the farming community and specialist associated with the countryside. The resulting set of works are a summary of the research – in a material form. But perhaps more importantly than this they both invite and activate change.
The rural doesn’t often see its lived experience reflected in the urban. Its truth is mostly romantically overwritten or problematised. The urban consumes these representations which feed a sense of loss or frustration. The mis-representation causes the rural to undervalue its actual cultural contribution or withdraw. Conversely the urban doesn’t see itself in the rural. Their yards, for example, seem meagre in comparison to the rural space. Their desire for breath, access and roaming terrifies the rural who declare them dangerous. Vilified the urban retreats and complains. Protest and protectionism grow in tandem – the gap widens.
But I’ve come to know anger begets anger…. This work steps into that conflicted place and towards a new narrative and space of empathy.
You and I are tangled up together
You and I are earth You and I are ancient You and I are invisible You and I are new-born You and I are rock You and I are frightened You and I are poor You and I are rich You and I are precarious You and I are here You and I are confused You and I are relevant You and I are potent You and I are broken You and I are exhausted You and I are rooted You and I are sacred You and I are silent You and I are transient You and I are tangled up together.
Made in collaboration with Rob Bibby.
Terracotta, Earthenware, Slip and Clear Glaze
36cm x 30cm
This many handled, scratched, clay vessel speaks directly to this list. Which is an adapted collection of words captured during the many conversations as I spoke with people about their lives and the rural. Formally the pot references funerary vessels, loving cups and water carriers which, like it, come alive in the hands of a collective. It’s also echo’s the rural and its people, making it therefore not a decorative item, rather a pragmatic and complex working tool.
Made in Collaboration with Rob Bibby, the vessel also evidences his hard won skills and stands in testimony to the generous welcome he offered.
Embroidered ribbon, A6 deckled edge card, pencil and envelope
These invitations are an extension of the pot. Like it they are propositional. Maybe even a challenge, that ask us all to consider the relationships we all hold with others, the rural, the urban, past, present and so on. With them I imagine a future event that brings people together from across the city region, where we discuss our tangle, make and set effective plans. At this event we would gather around the pot, using it to reinforce our connection and remind us of our collective ability.
I sleep in the bed I was born in
A4 40pp Photobook
Edition of 50
Spending time in these diverse communities revealed hard working ingenious experts. All who are doing their best to care through what they grow, make, share, innovate improve and promote. All while they hold heritage and the present in balance. Emotions ran high as we spoke of loyalty, magic and of being ‘dug in’. Reinforcing an idea that these people are their fields, soil, farms, sheep, baskets, birds, buildings and their effort. They are our food and our landscapes. Their cultural contribution is without question.
Yet during our conversations many expressed being isolated, stressed and even hated. Which combined with frequently challenging living and working conditions, effects of climate change and volatile markets, it made me wonder why they remain within these rural homelands.
The images in this book explore this complexity. They aim to highlight a common ability within the studied community to see and function in the world fully aware of its contradictions. Sitting side by side the photographs invite further consideration on this balance. Challenging historical representations of the ‘land’ which distorts our abilities to fully appreciate what it is to inhabit a rural neighbourhood.
Dan Butt – Small Commission
Dan was born and brought up on a farm, just east of the city, before leaving for collage and a life connected to science. He is not a professional artist. He lives in an urban centre and but his life is informed by his upbringing in the rural. It seems Dan is the epitome of the tangle I have explored. His photos explore the barriers – real or perceived as we access the countryside. Click here for the full body of work.
Findings & recommendations
What I learnt/heard that feels important
- The current dominant narrative of rural is urban written and urban focused.
- The rural is a distinct area with unique cultures, cultural outputs, creative spaces Which includes tools, architectures, agricultures and landscapes.
- Environment city sign is ridiculed “We have not earned it”
- The narrative of rural in region is tied to a romantic notion – John Clare/ heritage /old ways
- Agriculture and food sectors, in the area, are propped up by BPOC and Eastern Europeans. Their contribution is in worst cases invisible at best under-represented.
- City council owns farms currently tenanted to early entry and mid-career farmers. This is a great scheme.
- Innovative and internationally important cultural work is going on in rural neighbourhoods of Pbo. Organisations and industries beyond city see this.
- Dominant narratives of the countryside being inaccessible are wrong. All interviewed are working hard to connect with urban neighbours and open access.
- The people of rural communities are suffering isolation, poverty, access, health issues on a par with urban centre [national stats]. Coupled with poor housing and precarious tenancies
- Rural communities support many heritage sites and by default the heritage sector through volunteering.
- Promotion of both rural crafts and employment possibilities associated with them is severely lacking.
- A cultural offer to young people in rural settings is lacking. No provision is visible and people are expected to travel into an urban centre. Our assumption of “being able to afford things” is at play
- Tom Morton and Stephen Briggs [200 farms 200 schools/Farmer Tom] are keen to build an agri-industry sponsored education offer in collaboration with councils/schools.
- The area is haemorrhaging young people interested in/studying agriculture due to lack of opportunities and promotion of sector.
- City is not maximising opportunity to work with local food producers and suppliers of area – who are keen to support their urban neighbours. It is assumed the city is not interested.
- Rural communities are not celebrated by mainstream, urban gatekeepers and the pride they feel for their work is often then turned in on itself – creating a protectionist feedback loop evidenced in this sentence: “I don’t understand their language and they don’t understand mine.” Which we could also understand as racism.
- Culture has a duty to recognise and consider nature and impact to natural habits in the production of venues, work and cultural offers.
What I would recommend/or suggest needs to change.
- The people who make a cultural contribution in the rural are frequently overlooked, misunderstood, misrepresented and marginalised. Future cultural activity need to address them too – from a rural position.
- Rural stakeholders must be included in future strategy work.
- Rural producers [food and artefacts] are a rich asset – their products need using/eating within city.
- Contemporary rural cultures and their lived experience needs greater representation
- BPoC, Eastern Europeans and migrant workers experiences of rural – historical and currently need representing and celebrating.
- City owned farms be opened to people from more diverse backgrounds and with innovative ideas
- Cultural stakeholders in the city must connect and join forces with innovative internationally important work in order to fully represent and raise pride in region
- Culture must make meaningful connection to rural stakeholders to improve access for urban and rural residents through partnership working in education, promotion and marketing
- Cultural offer to low income family’s needs to include rural sector.
- Culture could support heritage spaces in rural settings through use of venues offering income to communities, content and alternative sites for audiences [for residents [urban and rural] and artists.
- Rural crafts need showcasing in urban and rural centres and including in future curation of exhibitions etc.
- Cultural developers consider rural setting and subject for new work
- The sector needs to develop and/or promote financial offer to those in rural settings
- Better youth provision into rural areas
- A schools and farms education link up that closes some of the gap between urban and rural – led/funded by agri-sector. Culture has an opportunity here that it could lead on.
- Create opportunities through promotion and support of rural businesses to retain students – it is no different to urban issue of retention
- Cities new food strategy may well affect this. Kate is working with Lauren to connect farmers into this.
- Cultural activity must consider climate, natural habit and its impact in production and continuation of work. Bringing in specialists to consider this if necessary.
Tom Martin, Judith and Rosie Jacobs, Andrew Jacobs, Stephen Briggs, Rebecca Cotton, Emma Parnell, Clare and Peter Harris, Richard Bramley, Alison Queenborough, Lance, Amy and Delilah Charity, John Mease, Nick and Vanessa Kimberly, Nicola Mathews, Sue Kirk, Sandra Keating, Liz Genever, Andrew Riddington, Dan Butt, Rob Bibby, Ruthie Williams, Amanda Philips, Ross Williams, Amanda Knighton and those who choose to remain anonymous